By Nicola Pratt
Last week, I sat at the Dead Sea in Jordan and admired the beauty of the rolling hills of the Palestinian West Bank on the opposite shore. The next day, the boom of Israeli jets breaking the sound barrier overhead reminded me that conflict continues to blight this beautiful area.
President Obama aims to resolve this situation. At the UN General Assembly meeting this month, he hopes to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. For almost two decades, the US has brokered several rounds of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The first round led to the signing of the Oslo Accords, in 1993, under the auspices of then US president Bill Clinton. In this agreement, Israel allowed the establishment of a Palestinian National Authority (with similar responsibilities to those of Norfolk County Council) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - Palestinian lands that Israel occupied illegally since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. In the second stage (which was not reached), Israelis and Palestinians would negotiate issues such as the final borders of Israel and an expected Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the future of Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948. This agreement was widely heralded as historic since this was the first time that Israel agreed to negotiate with the PLO, which it had previously labelled as terrorists. However, whilst the Oslo Accords got the two sides talking, it created a problematic framework for peace since it forced the Palestinians to negotiate for rights that, in international law, should be already guaranteed.
Imagine that you wake up one morning, look out of your window and see that a group of strangers have built a house in your garden. Not only do they refuse to leave (despite the fact that their presence is against the law) but they invite their friends to also build houses. They stop you from entering your garden. They siphon off your water supply. All this time, the police do nothing. You obviously get upset and decide that, if no one is going to evict these people, you will have to take the law into your own hands. So, you use violence to get the intruders off your land. The intruders retaliate with even more violence and manage to force you out of your house. Finally, the government intervenes to stop the fighting. However, rather than removing the intruders from your land, they instruct you to accept them and to renounce the use of violence against them. For their part, the intruders have to accept you but they do not have to recognise your rights to your land, or even to renounce the use of violence against you.
Imagine that you are Palestinian and the intruders are Israeli. This, more or less, characterises the various rounds of peace negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Today, President Obama, with the EU, is pressuring Israel to stop further settlement building in the West Bank (which is already home to half a million Israelis). For the Palestinians, the settlement freeze is a prerequisite to restart negotiations. This is a good first step. However, there cannot be a lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without recognition of the rights of the Palestinians. Israelis feel that having their own state is international recognition of the injustices perpetrated by Europe against the Jewish people - particularly, the Holocaust. However, it is unjust for the international community to make the Palestinians pay the price for European atrocities. The Palestinians deserve justice too and the US and its allies must recognise this and pressure Israel to do so too. Glaring double standards create violence and hatred. We all have an interest in ensuring that Israelis and Palestinians make peace – but a lasting peace based on justice and not merely a photo opportunity for politicians.